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HL20: Cheryl Bartlett, RN—Public Health Advocacy, From Bottom to Top

   December 03, 2013

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Cheryl Bartlett, RN.

This profile was published in the December, 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.


"I have realized that while I like hands on, I also see that the higher up you get in an organization the more ability you have to influence the outcome systemwide."

Cheryl Bartlett, RN, hasn't been paid as a nurse in many years, but she maintains her nursing license and says she still brings the perspective of a nurse to her job as the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

"Nurses have a wide range," she explains. "They think holistically about the person and not just about a particular condition, risk factor, or disease. They think about what a person needs from a social determinants perspective."

The DPH is the perfect place for that kind of thinking. As the commissioner, Bartlett is responsible for the work of 10 bureaus that oversee a laundry list of healthcare activities—health and nutrition, community health, infectious diseases, substance abuse, environmental health, research and statistics, licensure, perinatal services, and patient safety. Four public hospitals are also part of DPH.

Her path to DPH was somewhat circuitous. She began her nursing career at Yale-New Haven Hospital in cardiac intensive care, then moved on to Nantucket Cottage Hospital where she says she did every type of healthcare job, including running the dialysis clinic and working as an emergency room and operating room nurse, to moving up the ladder to director of nurses and director of clinical services.

Margaret Dick Tocknell is a reporter/editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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